Yasuko Thanh is the author of the memoir Mistakes to Run With and the award-winning novel Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains.
First, the self-described freedom convoy down the street co-opted orange shirts the same week an announcement was made by the Keeseekoose First Nation of an additional 54 potential unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools in Saskatchewan.
Then recently, as my daughter and I drove home from her booster shot appointment, the protesters in front of Victoria’s parliament buildings were playing Redemption Song on a loop at a volume loud enough that I could hear it through my rolled-up windows.
If you don’t know this song, I’ll share with you the chorus, wherein Bob Marley exhorts others: “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?”
Any other month their misuse of a song describing slavery and hundreds of years of oppression would have been bad enough – but this was happening during Black History Month.
The white man I’ve seen every day now for a week, holding point on the sidewalk in front of the legislature, day and night, danced with a large Canadian flag in a way that was reminiscent of a baton twirler leading a parade.
I don’t think of myself as a violent person, but at that moment it was all I could do not to hop out of the car and kick over the speakers.
Had I been alone I might have done just that. Every muscle in my body was tense, preparing for fight rather than flight.
The worst part? I agreed with them. I’ve not yet been vaccinated and do not favour mandates or government control. But my agreement with their point felt beside the point.
Instead, what racked up in that moment were the weeks of my own growing annoyance at their presence (I live a few blocks from British Columbia’s parliament, so errands that used to take 10 minutes now take hours), my dismay at seeing children holding signs they are not yet old enough to read and my frustration with large belching trucks festooned with flags using my street as a thoroughfare.
And so I said, unable to control the cracks in my voice, “I am going to pull over and rip out their sound system.”
The best part of having raised my children well comes in the form of a barometer for my own behaviours.
“What good will that do?” my daughter asked.
Stuck in the traffic jam the protesters had caused, I had time to consider her question deeply.
Trembling and overcome, I answered: “It’ll help … me.”
She looked at me, waiting for me to continue, pointing with her silence to the inadequacy of my response.
So, I said, quoting someone I don’t remember, “Anger without action is demoralizing. Kicking their speakers will help release my anger.”
“That’s not the function of a movement,” my daughter answered. “It’s not about you, or making you feel better.”
We continued our drive, stop-start-stop-start.
As I pulled onto our street, I realized someone, probably one of my neighbours equally at wits’ end, had plastered our street with the announcement of a counter rally the next day.
Getting out of the car, I debated whether to attend.
Fixing dinner, events of the past day went through my mind. The honking of the convoys, which I can hear from my house. My reactions to hearing sacred drums used as a rallying cry for the protestors’ freedoms. And now their use of a song that recounts being “sold to the merchant ships” under slavery. All this struck me as nothing less than ludicrous.
But later, as I did the dishes and tried to unspool my reactions to their reactivity, I kept thinking about my daughter’s wise reflection: that the purpose of a demonstration is not catharsis for the individual. It is not a way to release a small personal anger into the world. Instead, it is through demonstration that we may become part of something larger than ourselves, our own emotions and our own anger.
And it came to me with the clarity of the glass I was washing, in my own sink whose faucet produces safe water to drink. My anger toward the people protesting was nothing less then a reflection of my own privilege. Because the people on whose behalf I was outraged were too busy fighting things big enough to kill them. Too busy counting graves. Too busy unpacking the legacy of slavery. Or perhaps, like Bob Marley, they were asking us to sing, not songs of oppression, not songs of being beaten down, but songs of freedom.
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